I couldn’t sleep. I knew better than to think that staying cocoon-like in the warm bed was going to make the migraine stop its steady pulsing, so I swallowed the pills with a prayer for efficacy and rolled back the covers.
I have of late made it a practice to begin each morning by walking outside, centering myself in the day, in the world by looking toward the eastern sky and its slow illumination. Some mornings the pink and gold are electric. Some mornings they are pale. Every morning they are a reminder that I, as the poet said, am stardust. That whatever awaits me on the calendar, the to-do list, the inexhaustible mental inventory of tasks, it is small and insignificant compared to sunrise.
The sun is not awake at 4 a.m., however, and the horizon was still black and flat as the pages in an old photo album. I turned my gaze up instead and directly overhead was the moon, a waning crescent, a circle with a large bite taken out on the left-hand side. Its edges were smudged by either cloud cover or, maybe, just the cold. The sky was a blackboard, the moon drawn with chalk by a chubby hand.
I shiver just a little, pull the fuzzy bathrobe a little closer, and think, It is good to be alive.
It has been nearly two years since the world closed down on March 14, 2020. It was the day before my AJ’s first birthday party. It was cancelled. I settled instead by watching her smash her cake on a cell phone screen from 220 miles away. And that was only the beginning, of course.
In the nearly 700 days since, I’ve lost four cousins to COVID. Daddy lost one of his best friends and my friend Debra lost her mother. My doctor and nurse friends have exhausted themselves beyond exhaustion and my teacher friends have been called upon to be people and things they were never trained to be.
There have been postponements, then cancellations, too many to remember and I have managed all sorts of human interaction — business meetings, book clubs, church services, conversations — staring at a checkerboard of faces reminiscent of "The Brady Bunch" opening credits. Masks hang from the turn signal in my car and antiseptic wipes stay in the door pocket. I carry a proof of vaccination card with the same nonchalance as I carry my driver’s license.
The world is different. I am different.
Except that to the greatest extent possible, I am not. I am still mesmerized by words and charmed by small children and humbled by the moon — waxing, waning, full or invisible. I am still just as likely to cry watching the Olympics, to pick up an acorn, to wear aqua.
I will admit, though, to being more tender than I was before all the losses, more sensitive to differences of opinion about things I would have previously thought no one could question, more comfortable in my own mortality.
I can hope that I would have attained all that without all the sadness and disappointment and frustration. I can hope the heightened awareness would have manifested itself just by living a curious and generous and expansive life. I can hope, but I don’t know for sure. Some gifts come no other way but by walking through the fire.
I will never be grateful for the pandemic and what it took, but I am learning that in the hours before the sun appears there is always something else visible in the sky.